It’s tempting to imagine that procrastination is a fairly recent phenomenon. Without the Internet at their desks, without smartphones in their pockets, how could previous generations possibly have killed an hour, a day, or more avoiding work that needed to be done?
Somehow, they managed.
In 1608, Captain John Smith founded the first British settlement in the Americas in what became Jamestown, Virginia. His account of life in the New World includes a lament that too many of the settlers “procrastinated the time” away. Needing dramatic action to gain the attention of his chronic time-wasters, Smith decreed that “He that will not work shall not eat.”
Smith perhaps implicitly understood that procrastination is rooted in a focus on the here and now over the future. For procrastinators thinking only about what they want to do right now-- not working -- is vastly more pleasant than actually working. Meanwhile, the consequences of slacking off are in the future, often quite distant and abstract by comparison. Smith—rather than waiting for the settlement to collapse from procrastination—offered a very real and immediate cost that tended to focus the mind on what needed to be done.
A new study by Fuschia Sirois uncovers an additional source of procrastination—absorption.
Procrastinators have a tendency to get lost in what they are doing while losing track of everything else. In other words, one key to enjoyable procrastination is the ability to momentarily forget about what you are supposed to be doing. This is what makes the time-wasting so rewarding—instead of worrying minute by minute about impending deadlines or adverse effects, procrastinators get blissfully lost in their distractions.
Four Steps to Stop Procrastinating (Now!)